Of late we have had too many art exhibitions in Madras. It has almost become a fashion to add art section to any exhibition conducted either for collection of funds or entertainment cum profiteering. For instance, All India Swadeshi and Khadi Exhibitions and Agricultural and Cattle show exhibitions have also opened an art section.
There should not be any objection for including art section in any exhibition; as a matter of fact one should appreciate such effort on the part of the organisers for developing the aesthetics and giving some encouragement to the artists. But these art sections in those exhibitions does neither encourage the artist nor develop the aesthetic sense of the people visiting these exhibitions. On the contrary, it produces the exact reverse of it. The artist is not encouraged by mere certificates nor does he learn by comparison from the exhibits any more than what he learns from the exhibition of posters that are hung on the walls of a cinema house. Nor do these exhibitions infuse any aesthetics into the minds of the on-lookers. Of course, it adds to the income of the exhibition as all these art sections carry separate entrance fee within the exhibition grounds. But these art exhibitions definitely create a very bad impression in the minds of foreigners and cast a bad reflection on Indian taste. For no where in the civilized countries that an art exhibition is so shabbily organized and arranged. Art exhibitions are not entertainment buckets in a carnival. An art exhibition is the mirror through which is reflected the culture of a race of a nation.
Art exhibitions are held in every civilized country not so undignified and shabbily, for they are not to entertain people but to educate them in civilization. In foreign countries art exhibitions are conducted by department stores, book dealers and curio dealers besides art academics, art clubs and various other cultural institutions. The exhibitions held in department stores are mostly the works of individual artists; not only of painters but potter artists, designers, enamellers, lacquer artists and such craft artisans. They arrange them very methodically in such a way that every one of the exhibits is properly displayed, with a view to enable the visitors to appreciate then and to know the technique of the art displayed. The same is case with the book sellers and curio dealers where they organize exhibitions.
I had an occasion to visit several exhibitions held by Art Academies and Art Societies in the Far East and every exhibition was a study ground not only of the pictures exhibited but the arrangement, display and even the cataloguing. The only exhibition which really educated people in the country was the exhibitions held by the Indian Society of Oriental Art from its inception till about 1930 or so. It is no wonder that the Society’s exhibitions for a decade was a national feature inviting visitors from abroad to see the works of those masters like Abanindranath, Gaganendranath, Asit Haldar, Nandlal and Kshiten Mazumdar. There used to be a race on the opening date between jealous connoisseurs to snatch away the best pictures for themselves. Since then I have not seen any exhibition except that of the Lucknow Government School of Arts and Crafts Annual Exhibition organized by its Principal, Sjt. Asit Kumar Haldar. It used to be on the same lines as that of the Indian Society of Oriental Art Annual Exhibitions but with better display, as Mr. Haldar had the advantage of his crafts section which added lustre to the exhibition with beautiful designs of furniture in Indian style, jewellery, enamelling and posters.
Till about 1932 or so, Madras Fine Arts Society used to conduct Annual Exhibitions and award gold medals and certificates. It used to be a poor show, mostly to encourage the mistresses of the European officials who revelled in the impression that they the real patrons of Indian Art which would have otherwise become extinct, but for their active patronage and support. Later on some of the Indian artists took part and also secured some prizes.
Later on the Principal of the School of Arts and Crafts, Madras started organizing his own exhibition in his bungalow more to court the patronage from the connoisseurs. But later on, it became an Annual School Exhibition, in which the works of the Principal were also prominently displayed. The Lucknow School Exhibition under Mr. Haldar used to invite works from other schools and artists. But the Madras School Exhibition used to restrict its activities to its own students and staff. After sometime, the crafts section also took part and often the crafts section used to attract more the visitors as certain crafts were new to the Province, especially after the introduction in the school, enamelling, leather craft, lacquer and batik -- the Madras School of Arts Exhibition did educate the public and was responsible for the high standard of furniture that the cabinet makers of Madras are maintaining today. No doubt the jewellers, enamellers, cabinet makers and several other craftsmen were benefitted by those exhibitions but does not seem to have left any impression in the minds of the educated rather to be more precise the organisers of art exhibitions in the city.
Unless these organisers realize that art exhibitions are not book stalls and the idea behind the exhibition is education and not be encouraged to organize art exhibitions.
Recently I visited a small school exhibition organized by the students themselves at Adyar. There were nearly 100 pictures of water colour, black and white drawings, pencil sketches, prints from linocuts and some paper cuts. I was very much impressed and struck with the display. I could see every picture that was exhibited there distinctly and enjoyed looking at some of the humorous pictures drawn by small children, all of whom are below the age of 15 years. The same evening I visited once again the exhibition in the company of the art teacher who was kind enough to collect all the exhibitors. I spent a very delightful evening with those children looking at their work and getting explanations for them.
It may appear rude that I have made such scathing remarks. But if one is eager to keep up the prestige and honour of our ancient arts, these shows ought to a little more elegant, a bit more systematic and to crown all, with a tinge of educative value. I would suggest to organisers of future exhibitions, to contact such persons who may be in a position to offer good and constructive suggestions for organizing the art galleries, instead of merely collecting at random some pictures and displaying them promiscuously.
Published in Silpi, May 1947, pp. 28-30